Model of Manhood – The Sacred Masculine

By Paul Abromowitz

My father would have loved this work; he was indeed a beautiful man. Like so many of his generation, he remained financially responsible to his family, and as a result, was over-worked -a product of the John Wayne generation. That particular model teaches that strength is found, above all, in a tough interior and exterior. I sensed that he struggled to connect emotionally with himself and so too with us, his family.

He had no place to outgrow his emotional negativity which he had lugged with him from a difficult childhood. Like so many of his generation and those men that followed, he remained somewhat aloof and disconnected. As I grew up I watched his life unfold in front of me and had a window into the often difficult lives of the husbands of his gynecological patients. The picture that was formed was that society has placed great burdens on us as men. We often have to compromise our dreams for financial security, and that’s just the way it is. Better to accept than fight; better to just knuckle down and ‘achieve’.

My journey into manhood only confirmed my father’s plight and the plight of those blank faces of the tired men that came anonymously to visit our dinner table.

So many men live isolated inward lives-away in an emotional cave – or up in a tree- house- engaging or dipping in to life in small bits and pieces rarely touching true fullness or reaching a ripeness. Thoreau refers to some of this way of being as men leading “lives of quiet desperation” – a reflection of having in part sold out to a culture that beats down at our doors daily – or screams from the TV – inviting us to that new acquisition – or the chance of a better body. Soon – too much attention to the chaotic external sees a slow dying of the soul. The encouragement we receive as men to think with our heads and not to trust our feelings – only adds to the confusion – and leads us to a profound loneliness and detachment – from that place – unable to contact even ourselves – or step fully into intimate relationships. The resulting numbness is well documented in the writings of Men’s Consciousness Authors – (such as Robert Bly, Sam Keen, John Lee, and Steve Biddulph, to name but a few) – and there for all to see on the TV news – daily newspapers and magazines. Drinking, drugging and life’s excesses become a fast antidote to the pain and confusion – and taken to the next level – the hurt then spills out toward the interpersonal and broad society – through acts of violence – aimed at other men and most shamefully – at woman and children.

It seemed to me that men and women start off on fairly equal footing as children, but that soon little boys experience what is called a ‘diminishing in spirit’, perhaps through the act of learning to endure physical and psychological pain without complaining. The result of which is a numbness and ambivalence found so commonly among teenage boys and adult men.

Sensing that this was happening to me too, I began longing to meet up with men who shared my vision of living another model of manhood. I wanted more; I didn’t know exactly what but waited and trusted that the universe would provide.

In September 1998 I traveled, with five other South African men to Sopley, South London. There we took part in the ManKind Projects New Warrior Training Adventure weekend.

I have come to understand the process of that weekend’s work a little more now almost nine years , involvement and see now why the men who have done this work for so many years refer to it as a masterpiece.

I felt invited to look at who I was, how I make choices, and how I live out behaviors that work or don’t work for me. Through the magic of ritual, wisdom, myth and metaphor, I got to face myself and felt welcomed into a new paradigm, no matter which of my demons was waiting to meet me.

I had a felt sense that the 30 facilitators, who themselves had traveled the journey, had a powerfully authentic purpose about them. I sensed their deep respect and understanding for the process and their commitment to the healing work, which was immediate and consistent. I felt for the first time in my life, at the age of 36, the sheer transformational possibility of the power of non-judgment and love coming from 59 men – 30 facilitators and 29 other initiates. How different from that place so often set for men in the outside world, that of compulsive competitiveness.

It was a weekend of insight, triumph and celebration. I got to meet a small part of the man I had begun to look for way back then, and had been looking for for most of my adult life. I knew too, and found great comfort in the fact, that I had finally found a body of men who so beautifully modeled real commitment to transformation in their own lives and the lives of people around them.

My continued involvement and development in the work with men in this community and our overseas brothers has taught me that each man takes something different from his weekend experience. If he stays on in the work and continues the journey inward, supported by his men’s group -usually between five and nine men meeting fortnightly -working towards his own truth and passion, he builds a platform to bring about real and sustained transformation. It is from the circle, a place of shared blessing, honor, respect and truthfulness, that I have witnessed myself and so many other men springboard to that place of positive change, a place so deeply desired.

As we drove back from my first men’s weekend on a cold rainy Sunday afternoon, I was beginning to get a small sense of how this work fosters brotherhood through self-understanding, something which I had supposed was one of the basic aspects of earthly plane existence. I have realized that, on a spiritual level, this work serves to offer me nothing less than the possibility for a healing of the masculine soul. What I could not have guessed when I began was the profound and deeply altering effect the work was to have, and continues to have, on my life. Indeed, my journey has allowed me to step into relationship more fully and discover the joy of intimacy more deeply. I have come to meet that part of myself that allows me to discover and speak my truth. I can more easily face my deepest fears which are no longer roadblocks on my journey. I have begun to experience a paradox of life my father could not have known; that in vulnerability there lies the strength I so desperately seek.

I have learned to trust my own feelings more and to live in that place of connection to others and myself. The journey to authenticity through my own learning of emotional literacy has brought with it a deep sense of joy and a renewed passion, which once seemed unattainable. Through learning clear communication, and with awareness of my own projections, I am better able to empower myself to stay accountable to others and to myself. The lesson of integrity and the knowing of when I am out of integrity with my own truth holds me closer to my path.

It has been through the sharing of experiences and the listening quietly to other men’s stories that I have learned of the power of mentorship in community. I know the value of having friendships with other men which are intimate, nurturing and trusting, and how these friendships create the bridges necessary to mark and make smoother the transitions we men have to make in our lives. I have, through these friendships, been encouraged to follow my own truth and passion and bring about a tighter congruency between what I speak and my actions in the world.

The old models of man did not allow for a place for shadow to be addressed. The powerful ritual of naming my ‘shadow’, and hearing other men name theirs, putting mine out in front of me, and sharing the darkness that it is, has given me a clear vision of how and why I prevent myself from reaching my fullest potential. Such is the model of the Sacred Masculine.

While acknowledging both my ‘gold’ and my shadow, I have come to understand the controlling nature of my unconscious, my unexpressed anger, shame and grief. This understanding has allowed me to feel more comfortable within myself, expressing instead of acting out or ‘spilling sad energy’, as Rumi described so succinctly.

This work I have done, not alone, but with the support, blessing, honesty and love offered to me by the men in my men’s group, my community here and communities overseas, and thanks to the teachings held in sacred space.

A circle of men is a mystical place indeed, where I have seen magic happen time and again, the likes of which all words fail to describe.

As change is facilitated in our lives as men, all things become possible, and so we become moved to look beyond ourselves, to be in service to our community. This is done in the spirit of blessing -that of the energy of the good king archetype. Our work strives to return men to society as better husbands, partners, fathers, sons and siblings. Therein lies the true proof of the success of such work.

There are gifts we were given by our mothers which our fathers couldn’t have given. There are gifts we were given by our fathers which our mothers didn’t know how to give. Even if we as men didn’t receive those gifts from our fathers, perhaps because they knew not how to give them, or hadn’t received them themselves, then we need not cheat ourselves of a fulfilled life.

There are men out there in this world who have helped me strengthen and deepen my connection to life itself to passion and joy – and the hope and reality of a glorious life. I am constantly reminded how privileged and blessed I am to have found this.

My father would have loved this work; it would have made all the difference in his life. I know that because that is how it has been for me and the thousands of men who are making this journey together.

From Odyssey Magazine, South Africa 6-2002

Paul Abramowitz is a founding member MKP SA.